Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MLA accuses health authority of playing politics

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TORY MLA Myrna Driedger has asked the provincial ombudsman to investigate the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority over its refusal to give her health system statistics.

Driedger says she called WRHA director of communications Heidi Graham on Nov. 1 to ask how many heart surgeries had been cancelled this year and was told to put in an access to information request, which takes a minimum of 30 days.

But media outlets were given that information within an hour of Driedger's request.

Driedger said she thinks that is a violation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and also accuses the WRHA of playing politics with information that is supposed to be made available to the public.

"It is very frustrating," said Driedger. "Trying to get information is a farce."

She said this is not the first time she has been told by the WRHA to use FIPPA to get information which should be available to anyone who asks for it.

Graham said she told Driedger, via voice mail, that her job is to respond to media requests only.

And Graham said there has been an established process that opposition MLAs have made all their information requests via FIPPA.

"I told her we should continue to use the process that had already been established," said Graham.

Graham said, however, the WRHA will co-operate fully with the ombudsman's office.

Ombudsman Irene Hamilton said FIPPA is supposed to be a dispute mechanism used only when there is some question about whether or not information should be released.

She said if the media were being given the same information, clearly there wasn't a question of whether it was public information, and FIPPA should not be invoked.

"If it is going to be given to anyone it should be given to everyone," said Hamilton.

Hamilton has not yet seen Driedger's complaint, which would go through her office's intake department first.

Driedger said using FIPPA doesn't always work either. She said earlier this year she submitted a FIPPA application to find out how many of the city's 78 intensive care beds were closed.

"They told me due to technical difficulties they were unable to provide the information," said Driedger. "There is no such thing as a technical difficulty in counting ICU beds."

She said it usually takes more than 60 days to get a response to a FIPPA request.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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